Update January 2013: The US District Court for the District of Columbia handed down a decision in a cross motion for summary judgment in the case of Loving v. IRS, The case is not a referendum on whether paid preparers should be regulated, but the court sided with the Loving in saying Congress never gave the IRS the authority to license tax preparers and the IRS cannot give that authority to themselves. The court granted an injunction preventing the IRS from administering its RTRP program. The IRS is appealing and also requesting that the courts suspend the injunction.
Update 2012: The Registered Tax Return Preparer (RTRP) testing has begun, so now there are legitimate tax preparers with the RTRP designation. However, the testing for RTRPs only covers Series 1040 and ethical guidelines under Circular 230. Provisional Preparer Tax Identification Number (PTIN) holders, who have not passed any competency exam are still out there, and will continue to be able to prepare tax returns until the end of 2013. Furthermore, the IRS has allowed people who do not prepare series 1040 tax forms, to keep preparing other tax forms so long as they promise not to prepare any series 1040 tax forms, obtain a PTIN, and pass the suitability check; that means anyone one with a PTIN can still complete those other kinds of tax forms. Finally, if a tax preparer works at a law firm, a CPA firm, or a firm that is 80% owned by EAs, CPAs and/or lawyers AND a CPA, EA or lawyer is willing to sign a tax return the unlicensed tax preparer creates, this unlicensed tax return preparer can prepare your tax form, without passing the competency exam. The biggest improvement in the unscrupulous tax preparer landscape is that the IRS can revoke a PTIN. Anyone who prepares your taxes for compensation is required to sign the tax return and include their PTIN, so be on the lookout for tax prepares who don’t.
The tax preparation landscape is still pretty scary — the unwary taxpayer can still fall prey to unscrupulous tax preparers flying under the radar. Remember Enrolled Agents are the tax specialists. Only EAs are required to pass the comprehensive Special Enrollment Exam that covers all federal taxation issues in detail. If you want a knowledgeable professional on the case, the clear choice is still to hire an EA.
The whole tax return landscape is changing. Big things are happening to protect the average taxpayer from shoddy tax return preparers.
Until 2011, there was no regulation of unlicensed tax return preparers. Anybody could wake up in the morning and decide to do
taxes for money. At the same time the government subjected Certified Public Accountants, Attorneys, Enrolled Agents, Enrolled Actuaries, Enrolled Retirement Plan Agents, and Appraisers were to strict regulation via Circular 230; licensed tax preparers could face severe penalties and lose their licenses for if convicted of certain kinds of crimes, if they did not file their taxes, if they gave marginal tax returns or gave bad advice. That has changed. Now the IRS will regulate all tax return preparers.
Last year the IRS began the process by requiring everyone who wanted to prepare tax returns in 2011 to get or renew their Preparer Tax Identification Number (PTIN). The government required even licensed professionals such as Certified Public Accountants, Attorneys, and Enrolled Agents to renew their PTIN. Licensed professionals will not have to prove their ability to prepare taxes again-they have already demonstrated competency. Furthermore, they are subject to continuing professional education requirements, not to mention staying current on their taxes & clear of the law.
Unlicensed tax return preparers will eventually have to pass a test to prove their competency to prepare basic Form 1040s, however, for now, they can still prepare tax returns. If they pass the competency exam, the IRS will allow them to prepare more complex business returns, even though the IRS is not requiring them to demonstrate competency there. No doubt, a few currently unlicensed preparers, who have renewed their PTINs, will not be able to demonstrate competency within the next 3 years, but still prepare taxes.
Once the IRS makes the competency exam available, the IRS will stop issuing PTINs; the tax preparer wannabe must past the test before getting the PTIN. Once an unlicensed tax return preparer passes the test they will be able to use the designation Registered Tax Return Preparer (RTRP), and the IRS will allow them to prepare taxes.
Furthermore, the IRS is now going through the PTIN applications looking for people who have felony convictions and unpaid taxes. That means for the next couple of years, an individual taxpayer can still wind up paying for slipshod tax return preparation and advice from an unscrupulous possibly felonious tax cheat. Yikes.
Art & Business Consulting LLC employs Enrolled Agents (EA) in its practice. EAs are federally licensed tax practitioners who have passed stringent exams in the area of taxation. The federal government requires EAs to be knowledgeable in all areas of taxation: Personal taxes, business taxes, corporate taxes, payroll taxes, estate taxes, etc. as well as representing the taxpayer before the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). As Circular 230 practitioners, the IRS has also tested EAs on their ethical responsibilities and obligations per that document and EAs are familiar with the consequences of breaking the rules. In addition to passing the rigorous Special Enrollment Exam, the IRS requires EAs to take 24 hours per year of Continuing Professional Education (CPE) including 2 hours of ethics every year in order to retain their license. If an EA is a member of the National Association of Enrolled Agent, they are required to take 30 hours of CPE per year.
EAs have limited privilege in representing the taxpayer before the IRS, when discussing civil (not criminal) matters that do not constitute tax return preparation. In short EAs are taxation specialists, who work to stay current in the area of taxation, who can prepare any kind of tax form, and can represent the taxpayer at all levels of the IRS, whether they prepared a given tax return or not.
In contrast, when the Registered Tax Return Preparer (RTRP) passes their test, which will be a far less difficult exam than the Special Enrollment Exam, and gains their designation, the IRS will only require them to take 15 hours of CPE per year. RTRPs will have no privilege with their clients with respect to matters before the IRS because tax return preparation is not a covered privilege under Circular 230.
Right now, if you see somebody promoting themselves as an RTRP, then they are telling a lie. There are no RTRPs yet and there will not be any until the IRS finishes setting up the testing procedures for them at Prometric. Right now, there are folks running around with a provisional Preparer Tax Identification Number (PTIN). Remember IRS allowed people who previously had PTINs to renew them and will allow anyone to get a PTIN until the competency testing starts. Before a person with a provisional PTIN can claim the RTRP designation they will have to pass a test; there is no way for them to have passed that test as of this date because the test does not exist. By the way, anyone using the designation RTRP is reportable to IRS Return Preparer Oversight.
Therefore, if you see anyone currently using the designation RTRP steer clear. If you pay someone to do your taxes, make sure they sign on the tax preparer line and give a PTIN. Moreover, if you need help with your taxes or tax advice, as long as it is not criminal matter, you really should go to the tax specialists; hire an Enrolled Agent. For a criminal matter, hire a lawyer first; let your attorney hire the Enrolled Agent.
Finally when there are RTRPs out there, do not expect EAs to add the designation to their alphabet soup, it is kind of like saying Jane Doe PhD, High School Graduate. Who would do that?
As always, small business services and taxation are our business. If you need help with taxes, or other services, Please give Art & Business Consulting a call. We would love to engage you as a client.